Mathematics, Chemistry and Computer Science
Exploring play through Augmented Reality in the teaching of science
Paul Hernandez Martinez; Francois Malherbe; Andreea Molnar; Charlotte Pierce
This project will design Augmented Reality activities aimed at complementing the teaching of two foundational concepts in chemistry and mathematics. The focus of the activities will be on exploring and experimenting, which are aspects central to the creative learning process. A collaboration between the Science and the Computer Science schools, the project will create these activities using Adobe Aero and introduce them in the teaching and assessment of two units in the School of Science. Students in these units will benefit from being able to visualise and play with AR objects and linking this experience with the abstract, scientific concepts.
The problem we sought to address was the teaching of foundational concepts in chemistry and mathematics. To this end, we aimed to create interactive resources using augmented reality to complement existing teaching approaches and activities. Our goal was to engage students in exploration and experimentation, two cornerstones of play, so that students could better visualize and therefore understand complex abstract concepts, something which augmented reality (AR) is uniquely placed to assist with.
The project developed some initial ideas about gaming and how can AR assist us in developing teaching resources. For example, in chemistry we wanted to develop the fundamental concept of “dilution”. We thought of an interactive game that would resemble “snakes & ladders”. The rationale for choosing this topic is based on our observation over the last few years in tutorials and labs: although dilution is an entry level topic, students struggle to apply the skills in second and third year of their bachelor studies. In mathematics, we thought of quadratic equations as a topic that is fundamental in understanding solutions to equations, and one that has multiple applications in real life, but that is also problematic for many students. We thought of having a basketball player throw a ball into the basket in different ways, relating the curves described by the ball’s trajectories with the coefficients of the quadratic equation.
As we explored ourselves the capabilities of Aero, we discovered that the beta version had several limitations, particularly in delivering a highly interactive application. Aero lacks the ability to read input data from the user and rather works with predetermined sets of conditions. Therefore, we could not achieve a “snakes & ladders” type of game or have meaningful or challenging connections between ball trajectories and equation coefficients. We discovered that there is a fundamental limitation with the software in the sense that it only allows for a very static interaction, and this presented a very serious problem in achieving our goals.
Although our plans were to create and introduce these AR resources in the teaching and assessment of two units, we were not able to do this because the Android version of Aero was, and still has not been released. A majority of our students have Android devices and therefore it was impossible to ask them to use it as part of their unit learning, or worse, include it in their assessment.
Nevertheless, we created a visualization using Aero to help students build a stronger mental model of the topic of conic sections, which is a topic that is hard for students to visualize in a textbook or a 2-D resource. With this resource, we intend for students to explore each of the conic sections and reflect on their form, their definition, their equations and how these appear in nature or human activity. By moving through the Aero scene and tapping on each of the images, students can open explanatory text and images that can extend their knowledge of this topic. Some reflective questions throughout the scene are meant for the students to discuss with their peers and teacher.
We could not find a similar foundational topic in chemistry which could be addressed properly with Aero.
As a consequence, most of our goals had to be postponed to future cohorts of students, when Aero for Android is finally released. We have plans to offer collaborative capstone projects between science and computer science students, so that they can explore which other topics in science could be suited to develop in Aero.
Digital literacies. We expect that the use of augmented reality through Adobe Aero will build the students’ technology literacy, as they learn how to use a new piece of software to interact with the visualizations. It will also demonstrate how the use of an appropriate tool can greatly enhance the ability to visualize certain concepts. Students’ critical literacy will also be strengthened, as they can consider the limitations of the resources in building their, and their peers’ understanding of mathematical concepts. The information literacy of the students will be strengthened as students are encouraged to reflect on what the resource is trying to help them learn, and how it might be enhanced or improved.
As a team, we also developed our digital literacies by exploring, reflecting, and critiquing the capabilities of Adobe Aero and what it can bring (or not) to the learning of science.
Working at the forefront of technological innovation is both exciting and challenging. Our initial goals for this project were larger in scope, and we had intended to develop interesting and engaging complementary resources for chemistry and mathematics. However, working with the beta version of Aero we have realised the limitations of the software in delivering a highly interactive application, and its static nature. We were also looking forward to the release of Android support which has been delayed. Additionally, our technical capabilities were not enough to manage the glitches and inexplicable errors in Aero, which delayed our output. These have all put a strain on our project but have also challenged us to reimagine the educational resources resulting in a less interactive but nevertheless enjoyable version of the conic sections. We hope to learn in the future from student feedback, from final year students developing further resources as their capstone projects and from students in the units where the resources were meant to be introduced. We still believe that AR can hugely enhance the learning of science but maybe we need to communicate to those developing software that education has its own requirements and that future versions of AR software need to take these needs into account, rather than trying to shoehorn our needs to software that was developed for very different purposes.
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